Saturday, August 30, 2014

Game 162: Warrior of Ras, Volume Two: Kaiv (1982)

This is the C64 opening screen; the full title is on the next screen. I originally had it as a 1983 game, but the copyright screen and manual for the Apple II version says 1982.

Warrior of Ras, Volume Two: Kaiv
Randall D. Masteller (author); Screenplay (publisher)
Released 1982 for Apple II; 1983 for Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64
Date Started: 27 August 2014
Date Ended: 27 August 2014
Total Hours: 4
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 23
Ranking at Time of Posting: 51/158 (32%)

At the beginning of this year, I reviewed Warrior of Ras, Volume One: Dunzhin, the first of a four-game series by Randall Don Masteller, published by Screenplay of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This was an enormously productive period for Masteller, with all four games--each building in capabilities--issued within a two-year period. I had originally tagged the first sequel, Kaiv, as a 1983 game, but the screen and manual copyrights both say 1982. Since the first two games were advertised together, the 1982 date is probably correct.

I didn't dislike Dunzhin. (It would be worth reading or re-reading that review before getting into this one.) It enjoyably passed an afternoon and I gave it a score of 22, which wasn't bad for a 1982 game. It had some strong innovations, including a complex system of armor class and damage, with different body parts having different ACs and damage levels; a tactical combat system involving three levels of attacks against various enemy body parts; experience rewards relative to your level vs. the enemy's; and the ability to "search" for a particular foe at any given time. I just wished it had other RPG elements, like an inventory and a strong economy. "It has some ideas too good to ignore," I remarked, "but it lacks too many RPG elements to fully enjoy as an RPG."

The less-exciting Apple II main screen.

Thus, I was looking forward to Kaiv, which features an inventory system, with some items used flexibly for combat (e.g., potions, magic rings) and others used as puzzle-solving tools (e.g., ropes, picks). Unfortunately, we still have no character attributes and no way to even name your character, but the series is clearly growing.

The framing story is set in the land of Ras (the name was originally an acronym for "Random Area Series"), ruled by Lord Doserror the Inevitable. Doserror's greatest warrior, Grimsweord, has just returned from "the Ancient Lands," where he discovered the legendary Kaiv. His account of his adventures comically, though somewhat uncomfortably, intersperses lore with game instructions:

I reached a massive door, twice as tall and wide as this hall. I pounded on it with the hilt of my sword. I felt a strange sensation. A voice within my mind told me that I had indeed found the Kaiv, though it made it seem as if it were some fell game. As the doors swung back smoothly on massive hinges, I heard the voice ask:


As I had never entered the Kaiv before, I said (N)o.

It goes on like this through all of the gameplay elements and commands. I'm not sure if the suggestion is that the hero is Grimsweord, or another fighter sent to the dungeon to do a better job.

Exploring the "Kaiv" means navigating both combats and obstacles.

Kaiv allows an import of a character from Dunzhin, with all his attendant experience and gold. That seemed a little too easy for me, so I started with a new one. The game begins in a marketplace outside the cave, where you can purchase a variety of exploration items, armor, and swords. Weapons can break in combat, and you need a couple of backups, since the game won't allow you to fight with fists. The manual says that the "standard pack" at the outset would consist of a suit of armor, three swords, 10 torches, 15 food, 15 water, a cross, flint and steel, three ropes, two dirks, a pick, and a mirror. This is all easily purchasable with the starting 2,000 gold. In fact, the only thing outside your price range at the beginning is a "magic sword" for 3,000 gold--something to save up for.

Purchasing an initial selection of equipment.

Weight and encumbrance affect movement, so the game lets you store excess cash outside the dungeon. There's no reason not to do this unless you plan to bribe creatures a lot.

The titular cave is a series of randomly-generated maps progressing west to east for six screens. Where Dunzhin was organized in discrete, lettered, rectangular rooms, Kaiv's spaces are far more irregular, spotted with cliffs (you need a rope to climb), pools of water or acid, and other navigation hazards. Some of the hazards produce an early variety of "quick time event" where you have to quickly hit a key to avoid taking damage.

I have suffered a collapse and am using my pick to get out of it.

Hitting a key quickly avoids taking damage from an acid pool.

The game preserves the movement system I disliked from Dunzhin where you have to type MOVE EAST 3 or MOVE NORTH 1 to mince along at the desired number of steps. Yes, you can abbreviate this M E 3 and M N 1, but it's still more annoying than using the arrow keys. Sensing this, Masteller did allow the use of the arrows to move one step in any direction on the Commodore 64 version. I started trying to play that version, but I ran into a bug by which all of my attacks always missed the enemies. Thus, I was stuck typing things the long way in the Apple II version.

You rarely want to move more than one step in any direction into unexplored territory, as the torch only illuminates one square around you and you could easily find yourself running into walls and taking damage.

Combat hasn't changed much at all from Dunzhin. As you explore, you run into packs of ghouls, skeletons, wolves, fighters, ogres, goblins, wyverns, trolls, vampires, and other D&D-derived monsters. Sometimes they'll offer you the choice of withdrawing without combat, but mostly they just want to fight. You can try to HIDE or BRIBE enemies to leave you alone if you're low on hit points. The monsters have a variety of special attacks and are fairly well-described in the game manual.

LORDS: Once they were great knights and warriors, but they were trapped in the Kaiv eons ago. These accursed noblemen are magnificent fighters. They are heavily armored, with plate mail, war helmets, and swords of great renown.
GORGONS: The sight of a gorgon can turn a warrior to stone, and with good reason. Gorgons have shapely human bodies but hideous faces, glowing eyes, deathly pale skin, and "hair" of writhing serpents. The ancient legends say that a mirror can protect the warrior from being turned to stone.

In combat, you choose to just HIT or to spend a round AIMing or increasing your FORCE. In addition to the type of attack, you specify the body part to be attacked: Head, neck, chest, abdomen, left leg, right leg, left arm, right arm (with arms and legs replaced with forelegs and hind legs for creatures). For both you and the monsters, each body part has its own armor class, chance to hit, and hit points, and if you reduce any of them to 0 (or the creature's total hit points to 0), the creature dies. Heads and necks have very few hit points but very low chances to hit; chests and abdomens have a lot of hit points and a high chance to hit.

Fighting a fighter.

Armor absorbs a few hit points damage on each body part, slowing losing armor points as it does so. When the armor defense reaches 0, it's time for a new set of armor. All in all, it's one of the most complex health and armor systems that we have in the Bronze Age. It's just too bad there aren't more types of armor.

There are no classic attributes, but your level affects your attack and defense values as well as your individual body hit points. I found leveling was absurdly rapid in the early stages: I gained one level for every single combat up to Level 7, and after that I still managed to get up to Level 10 pretty fast. (This makes sense if the assumption is that many players imported characters from Dunzhin.) But since the required number of experience points increases by 25-50% each time, it will still take a long time to reach the maximum level of 20.

A late-game character sheet shows my attributes and hit points for each body part.

Monsters politely attack you one at a time, and you always get the first blow, so it's possible to work your way through a pack without them ever getting a chance to hit you. This rarely happens, though. In general, I find the combats very deadly, though the ability to save anywhere reduces the consequences of this.

Enemies never drop anything, but you find gold and potions and supposedly rings and wands on the dungeon floor. I say "supposedly" because in 4 hours of play I never found a wand or a ring. There are eight types each of potions, rings, and wands, and the effects are both powerful and useful. Potions include healing, haste, hiding, ironskin, strength (doubling attack damage), and "etherealness," which allows you to move through walls. Rings operate either by charges or duration, and they include three types of shielding rings, fireballs, invisibility, teleportation (random), and light. Wands include cold, fire, lightning, and paralysis. It's not a bad inventory system for a series that had no inventory in the first game.

You also have to carry stocks of torches, food, and water, and the game frequently gives you messages about getting hungry and thirsty or torches running out. I don't mind the dynamic, but you never find torches, food, or water in the dungeon, and especially as you start to explore more screens to the east, it's annoying to have to trek back to the entrance to revisit the market.

Kaiv also keeps Dunzhin's dynamic of having all kinds of weird things happen as you explore. A voice whispers "I like you" or "I don't like you." You suddenly feel a boost in confidence. The cave collapses around you and you have to use a pick to get out. A voice says "go away!" and you're randomly teleported elsewhere. You disturb a colony of bats (other than a brief animation, I don't think this has any consequences). These special encounters keep the game very unpredictable.

Dunzhin had a "main quest" to find a random treasure on the bottom floor. Kaiv's main quest seems to be finding the "Legendary Treasure" on the sixth screen. This legendary treasure is . . . wait for it . . . a pile of 5,000 gold pieces. Just a tad underwhelming, but of course the "real" point of the game is just to explore and develop as high as possible.

It took me about 4 hours of play to get to Level 11, collect enough funds to buy a magic sword, and make it to the site of the treasure. When I finally got there, I found that I could only carry about 3,500 of the 5,000 gold pieces if I didn't want to start dropping other items. This reduced my movement speed to 1 per round, but fortunately I had a lot of "Haste" potions and was able to compensate as I limped back to the exit. There was no acknowledgement, upon leaving, that I'd found the legendary treasure.

My final inventory. I'm not sure what the purpose of the dirks was. Don't ask me why I'm holding my regular sword when I have a magic sword.

I expect the GIMLET to score slightly higher than Dunzhin. Let's see:

  • 1 point for the game world. Unfortunately, the framing story is very brief and has no impact on actual gameplay.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. There are no creation options and a fairly standard experience/leveling system during the game itself.
  • 0 points for, alas, no NPCs.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. The monster list may be somewhat derivative, but it's still nice to find such an early game implementing features like paralysis, level-drain, and the need to hold up a mirror against gorgons. The various random happenings in the game are a little too random to be fully enjoyable, but they do add some variety to the exploration.

Sometimes enemies are just trying to get from one place to another, just like you.

  • 4 points for combat. The body part/armor class/damage system is unique and interesting, as is the ability to spend a round improving AIM or winding up more FORCE. There is still no magic in the series--only magic items.
  • 2 points for a basic equipment  selection. I was disappointed that I never found rings or wands. I don't know if they were exceedingly rare or if it was a bug.
  • 3 points for the economy. Unlike the first game, gold has some use, and you have to keep collecting it for survival gear. Having to save for the magic sword is a nice sub-goal.
  • 1 point for not much of a main quest.
  • 2 points for bare-bones graphics, a sound system that consists mostly of piercing boops, and a text-based control system that I still don't like for movement even though Masteller tried to help by allowing abbreviations.

The game has pretty good in-game documentation, too.

  • 4 points for gameplay, earned mostly for the modest level of difficulty and for lasting just about as long as the depth of the gameplay could support.

This gives us a final score of 23, surprisingly only one point higher than Dunzhin. The discrepancy is primarily in the 2 bonus points I gave to Dunzhin for some of the innovative elements that didn't fit into other categories. I debated whether I should carry these points forward but ultimately decided not to. 23 feels like it works well in comparison to other games with similar scores.

My post on the first game has some information about Randall Masteller and his influences. I had a great e-mail exchange with him that week, in which he enthusiastically answered all of my questions and really seemed keen to talk about the game. (Some of the other developers I've contacted in the past year have been far less pleasant.) I'll shoot him an e-mail to let him know this one is up and see if he has any additional remembrances.

I'll be playing the final two Ras games over the next few months. Based on the manuals, Wylde and Ziggurat offer similar game mechanics but deeper back stories and more meaningful main quests. As randomly-generated dungeon crawls go, the Warrior of Ras titles offer a reasonable amount of fun for short time periods, and I've enjoyed watching the series develop.


  1. "The sight of a gorgon can turn a warrior to stone, and with good reason"

    Beats me!

    1. More that there is nothing about a Gorgon's appearance (or anything's appearance) that implies seeing such a thing would turn one to stone. Because turning to stone is not a typical response to something's visage.

      You could say 'as per Greek mythology', but 'with good reason' not so much :)

    2. The next sentence does mention the gorgon having a shapely body. Perhaps "turned to stone" is a metaphor here.

      Wow. Kenny is rubbing off on me.

    3. Hey, hey. That's just your inner pervert rearing his head. Heh. Head. BTW, why's David Bowie on the game cover?

    4. The gorgon and things becoming hard as rock sounds like an ongoing Piers Anthony joke, which he kept in the Xanth series for at least 10 books. Possibly more, but I stopped reading them in college.

  2. Is the "dirk" a weapon? That's the name of a kind of dagger.

    1. I have a sneaking suspicion that Chet knows what a dirk is.

      I suspect he is wondering why it was suggested that he purchase them, given that it was also suggested he buy three swords.

    2. That was indeed what I was going for.

  3. Less encumbering backup weapons? Dunno. In Ras Vol. III, you can use dirks as throwing weapons.

  4. This is one of the first games we had for our C-64, and I remember being bowled over by the title screen and intro music...quite a step up from the old VIC-20!

    Never beat the game, though I played it a lot over the years (this seems to be a pattern with roguelikes for me...I play them a lot but never come close to winning; I just enjoy the gameplay) you, I never found rings or wands, but potions of ironskin and etherealness seemed to be the most common magical items.

    Weapon breakage was a pain!

  5. I can't imagine why someone would be "less pleasant" towards you for asking simple questions about their old games.

    "Man, don't mention that game to me! I was young, I might have been drinking, BASIC looked like a good time, it was a bad time for me, ok?!"

    1. Some are less pleasant just because they're being called at home or work by some random blogger. Others are less pleasant after they read my review first and don't appreciate the negative things or don't understand a 25/100 isn't necessarily "bad." (I try to prepare them for this, but it often doesn't work.)

    2. Ah, I assumed you were only using email, not also calling people. I still think it's a nice gesture for someone to be remembered for something they did so long ago. Can't win them all I guess. Hopefully you get more positive responses than otherwise.

    3. I prefer e-mail, but I can't always find people by e-mail.

  6. There are also a lot of talented people out there -- in programming, and other fields as well -- who don't feel like they got the recognition or career success they deserved, and have a huuuuuuuge chip on their shoulder because of it. Typically they're in the 45-70 age range, vacillate between bitterness, boastfulness, and self-pity, and are quick to take offense at even the smallest perceived slight.

    I'd imagine the Addict has run into one or two personalities like these, since computer programming is rife with them -- many people think they "should" have made it big, and were unfairly treated by circumstance or by real or imagined persecutors. It's a sad thing to see, and a cautionary tale for the rest of us.

    BTW this is the first time I've had to retype a comment that got "eaten" after I hit submit. A rite of passage!

    1. Sorry, that was in reply to Raifield above. The perils of a sketchy Internet connection...

    2. I guess I can understand that. They had the talent, but the market just wasn't there yet to "hit it big", as you say. I don't think anyone became rich and comfortable writing video games in the eighties. Most of the successful studios of the eighties didn't even survive to see the nineties and nearly all of them ceased to exist by 2000.

      It must be a bitter thing to see today's Kickstarters, Greenlights and Patreons and wonder what you could have done. People are finally now able to make a serious living as independent developers. Hell, I support one Patreon software project that is pulling in just over $42k a month, almost half a million a year for a team of three!

      Certainly makes me question my career choice...

  7. "Anthony commonly states that he originally intended for Xanth to be a trilogy, and after the wild success of the first three books decided to expand the series to nine books. An extremely devoted fan base persuaded the author to continue writing the series, which is now open-ended. He has since declared, in the Author's Notes of Cube Route, that this 27th book ended the first "magical trilogy" and that he was beginning a new one with the 28th, punning on the fact that 27 is the third power of three, i.e. three cubed."


  8. Bad Blood not a cRPG? Or saving it for later?

    As an Origin game that I have never heard of, I was a bit curious how it would turn out.

  9. DOS error, the inevitable? Groan.

  10. Something strange i've noticed. I've played the Atari 8-bit and Apple ][ versions back-to-back, and I've found you hit the enemy successfully a LOT more on the apple version. On average with the Atari 8-bit version, I hit once every 2-4 attacks, where as with the apple version, it's the opposite. I MISS every 2-4 attacks.

    1. That IS weird. Is the Atari 8-bit version punishingly difficult or the Apple II version too easy? That might give a clue as to what was supposed to be going on, at least.


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